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Every year on the Thursday before Thanksgiving, thousands of Americans participate in Oxfam’s Fast for a World Harvest campaign—attending Oxfam America Hunger Banquets, skipping meals, or taking other actions to fight world hunger. Here’s Rasa Dawson, lead organizer for the campaign, with her thoughts on this annual tradition.
A few years ago, I organized an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet on a small college campus in rural Virginia. I remember we had high hopes that it would be a good event, but as we watched people pouring in the doors, we were shocked. It wasn’t just students; it was professors, people from the local church, and community members—over 300 of them.
Over the next hour and a half, it was awe-inspiring to watch the transformation in that room. People shared food, laughed, told stories, and cried. Three hundred strangers left the room not strangers any longer, but fellow travelers. They forged relationships because they shared the same fate that, as in real life, was given to them at random.
Why is it random? Because as each guest enters the Hunger Banquet, he or she is given a card that assigns him or her to a low, middle, or upper-income group. (The percentages represent the real-life global distribution of wealth.) What you see is startling—the majority of people, the low-income group, sit on the floor, while those select few in the upper income group dine at a well-appointed table. A different meal is served to each group: plain rice and water for lower incomes, and salad and pasta for the upper.
I’m thinking about that past event today, as we prepare for our Oxfam America staff Hunger Banquet. I’ve brought in an armful of kangas, colorful Kenyan wraps, for my colleagues to wear. Passing our café, I see staffers busy preparing the room, hanging photos, signs and posters, getting the seating arrangement s just right, getting the music ready. The air is bustling with activity, and my team is almost electric with excitement.
I’ve had friends ask me why Oxfam employees need to attend our own Hunger Banquet. Obviously, given the work we do, we already care about issues of hunger and poverty.
But this annual event is a special time for us. You very rarely see the whole staff together in one room. Time is a precious commodity here, where everyone works long hours and has a never-ending to-do list. Today people will put down their work, turn off their computer, end their meetings, and come to the café for a different kind of meal. Tickets in hand, they will sit and wait in anticipation.
Of course, when it’s over, we’ll all take a deep breath, get up, and go back to work. But we’ll feel different–more connected, somehow. Because that’s what Hunger Banquets do: They connect you to the people you share the room with, and with the millions of people living in poverty around the world.
They remind us why we do what we do.